Les Darcy tribute statue
By Paul Upham in East Maitland: Over two hundred people attended a ceremony to commemorate the restoration of the Les Darcy Family Vault at King Edward Park in north-eastern NSW on Saturday 26 June 2010. Maitland City Council organised and hosted the event, which paid tribute to one of the greats of the early years of Australian boxing prior to his premature death in 1917.
The restoration of the Darcy grave is being funded by numerous private sponsors, fifty five of whom sponsored a statue plaque for each of his career fights, and a contribution from the NSW Government.
Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame exhibit curator Arnold Thomas was closely involved in the project along with the generous contributions of Maitland City Council.
“This project means a great deal to me and it has for many years,” said Arnold Thomas. “I am just delighted to see how successful we have been in raising the money needed. It is just marvellous to see these plaques around this magnificent statue.”
“The plaques around the base of this statue,” explained Maitland Council Heritage Officer Clare James, “have not only contributed to the restoration of the Darcy family vault, but have played a part in the permanent public record of his sporting achievements.”
A special thank you was given to former Maitland resident Mr Jeff Bible, now residing in the USA, who contributed the final outstanding funds of well over $10,000, to see the restoration project proceed.
The special guest speaker at the event was Peter Fenton, the former rugby union coach, film producer, poet and successful author, who recited during the ceremony three of his popular poems about Darcy.
“Darcy was a God in Sydney town,” said Fenton. “Special trains came down from Maitland for his fights. Twenty thousand people would get to the Sydney Stadium when they could only fit 14,000 in.”
three of the statue plaques
Known as The Maitland Wonder, Darcy remains permanently etched in Australian history as a legendary sporting saint, even though he was only 21 years of age when he died.
On 19 February 1916, Darcy knocked out Harold Hardwick in seven rounds to win the Australian heavyweight title. His final fight in Australia was on 30 September 1916, when he knocked out George Chip in nine rounds.
Two days before his 21st birthday on 29 October 1916, Darcy stowed away on an ocean steamer bound for the USA and arrived in New York six weeks later. He was publicly portrayed as a coward by his critics in both Australia and America.
Whilst training for his American debut, Darcy collapsed on 27 April 1917. He was admitted to hospital with septicaemia and endocarditis. It was suggested his blood poisoning had come from a fight a year earlier where he had lost two teeth. His tonsils were removed but he developed pneumonia and died on 24 May 1917.
After his death, Darcy’s embalmed body was returned by ship to Australia where over half a million people paid their respects in person in Sydney and Maitland.
Darcy’s final record was 46 wins, 4 losses and 29 wins by knockout. He was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Les Darcy was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, USA in October 1998.
Maitland Mayor Peter Blackmore announced the formal commemoration and the official ribbon for the Darcy tribute was cut by Robbie Reid, Clare James, and Arnold Thomas.
A post ceremony gathering was held at the East Maitland Bowling Club adjacent to the Darcy statue.
“Many people have travelled across Australia to be here today and they are warmly welcomed to join us,” Mayor Blackmore told the gathering. “This has been a very special occasion and a memorable gathering of family, community members, boxers and boxing experts. The Maitland Council looks forward to maintaining contact with you as the restoration of the Darcy family vault progresses throughout the year.”
“I think this is fantastic,” Peter Fenton observed of the ceremony. “Anyone who has done anything at all to preserve the name of Les Darcy and preserve the legend of this fantastic man should be congratulated. We are a young nation, but we tend to throw our heritage away so simply and so easily. I think it is so important that our great achievers should be remembered, especially in the town where they lived.”
photos by Paul Upham / www.SecondsOut.com